The article argues for an interdisciplinary approach to studying the complex circumstances that turn natural hazards into disasters. It takes on the ambitious task of combining a social sciences-inspired vulnerability and adaptation analysis with a natural science-based hydrological modelling analysis, and using both to investigate climate-related water disasters in two communities in the Quang Binh Province, central Vietnam. The article shows how societal capacity, notably the adaptive capacities of individual households and local and provincial institutions pertaining to the two communities, can mitigate the natural hazards. Despite differences in exposure and vulnerability, both communities have been forced to seek alternative income-generating activities. This has enhanced their socio-economic resilience but at the same time increased socio-economic differentiation and the vulnerability of certain population segments. The article finds that the government’s main mitigation policies (resistant crops and improved infrastructure) are regressive in the sense that higher asset households tend to benefit more.